Saturday, 26 November 2016

Sacred Valley Tour

DAY 3 - I had breakfast at Hostal El Triunfo then spent the rest of the day on the Sacred Valley Tour of the Incas. This tour departs from Cusco on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays. Reservation one day in advance is fine. I booked it at the front desk in my hotel on my first day in Cusco.

I paid 60 soles (US$20) for the full-day tour which included hotel pick up, drop off, transport, a buffet lunch, and an English speaking guide. I also bought the Cusco Tourist ticket which covered the entrance fees to the Inca ruins on my Cusco City Tour and the Sacred Valley Tour so I was all set for my day trip.

Washington, my tour guide, came with a shuttle van to pick me up from my hotel around 8:30 AM. We went to a bus station to transfer to a bigger bus. There were about 15 travellers on the bus with plenty of room to stretch. Our tour would make the following stops:
  1. A small handicraft market in the village of Ccorao
  2. Pisac Inca archaeological site and local market
  3. Buffet lunch at a restaurant in Urubamba
  4. Ollantaytambo Inca archaeological site
  5. Chinchero village and a weaving co-op
  6. A small alpaca shop on our way back to Cusco
We packed several activities in one day so this blog post will be longer and with more pictures than previous posts. Click to enlarge the pictures.

First stop was at a small handicraft market in the village of Ccorao for about 20 minutes. I did some quick browsing but didn’t buy anything. Here’s a sample of what’s on sale:

Souvenirs in Ccorao shop
Nice scenery appeared as we continued on to Pisac:

Urubamba river
Mountain road to Pisac
Second stop was Pisaq (or Pisac). Pisac is well known for its Incan ruins and Sunday market. Entrance to the Pisac archaeological site is included in the Cusco Tourist ticket. Upon entering the Pisac archaeological site, I saw an expansive view of the hillside agricultural terraces, and the Incan ruins atop a hill. We followed the footpath uphill to reach Q’allaqasa sector at 3,514m (11,529 ft) elevation. The view was spectacular. The ruins and the citadel were built some time around 1440 and appeared well maintained. Even though there were a number of tourists at the site, there was still a very peaceful feel about this place.

Terraces at Pisac
Pisac Incan ruins
View of the Valley
Pisac citadel
Pisac Incan ruins
Stone wall in Pisac
Some Sacred Valley day tours stop at the Pisac market and skip the Pisac ruins. I’d highly recommend to request to visit the ruins at Pisac at the time of your booking.

After leaving the Pisac ruins, our tour bus took us to the Pisac market and let everyone out to explore for about 30 minutes. I spotted these two young Peruvian girls and their lambs, and a colourful mototaxi passing by.

Local girls with little lambs
A mototaxi

Third stop: Urubamba for a buffet lunch at a local restaurant. It’s a big place with plenty of indoor and outdoor seats. There were Andean and American food choices and the food I tried was pretty good. Our group spent about an hour here. I chatted with a few fellow tourists about where we’ve been and where we planned to go next after Cusco.

Fourth stop: Ollantaytambo. Our bus stopped in the town centre and let us off. Ollantaytambo town is one of the most common starting points for the multi-day hike known as the Inca Trail. There is also frequent train service from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu.

Washington took our group on a short walk through town to Ollantaytambo archaeological site. It’s at an altitude of 2,792 m (9160 ft) above sea level. Entrance to the site is included in the Cusco Tourist ticket. We climbed up the stone stairway to reach the top of the terrace complex. Washington was way ahead of us with his flag. He told me he does this tour three times a week!

Ollantaytambo site dates from the late 15th century. The Incas did farming on the agricultural terraces and took advantage of the different ecological zones from the variations in altitude.

Ollantaytambo archaeological site
They also built storehouses on the hills surrounding Ollantaytambo to store the production of the agricultural terraces. Their location at high altitudes, with lower temperatures and more wind, acted as natural “refrigeration” to keep their contents from decaying.
Ollantaytambo storehouses
View of Ollantaytambo town
Steep terraces at Ollantaytambo
Ollantaytambo Inca ruins
Fifth stop: Chinchero. The sun was setting as our bus approached the village of Chinchero. This is a small Andean village at 3,765m (12,352 ft) elevation, about 30 km (19 miles) from Cusco. Our group walked from the bus stop to Chinchero main plaza and an old colonial church, made of adobe bricks and has been built on the foundations of an Inca temple. Entrance to the site is included in the Cusco Tourist ticket.

Chinchero stone walls

Chinchero church
Llamas on terraces in Chinchero
From the main plaza, we walked to a local weaving co-operative. The local women wore traditional dresses. They greeted us and offered tea. Our group sat down on the wooden benches in the room to observe how the women make dyes from natural materials in the area and the finished products after the dyeing process. Chinchero is well known for its colourful woven textiles. The co-op also sells their products on site. I was tempted to buy but couldn’t decide before it was time to leave.

Local Chinchero weavers
Natural materials for dyes
Colourful yarns
From Chinchero, our bus driver headed back to Cusco and stopped at a local alpaca shop. We were offered tea and had some time to shop. From here, we returned to Cusco. I was dropped off at my hotel at around 6:30 PM.

I found this Sacred Valley Tour very good value for the money, and would recommend it to anyone who wants to visit Pisac, Ollantatambay and Chinchero. The tour is a circuit of around 200 km so having a local guide to take care of the driving, and another guide to accompany you to the sites was well worth the cost of the tour.

It was a wonderful day in the Sacred Valley of the Incas!

Next post: Train to Machu Picchu.

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